Via the Daily Caller. He didn’t say “sphincter,” actually, but in honor of the “new tone” and because this is, after all, a family-oriented blog, I decided to clean up his language a bit for the headline. Is “sphincter” okay? Or is that sort of rhetoric beyond the bounds of political politesse for which mellow, even-tempered pundits like Krugman and Frank Rich are known and loved? In case so, I denounce myself preemptively.
One side saw health reform, with its subsidized extension of coverage to the uninsured, as fulfilling a moral imperative: wealthy nations, it believed, have an obligation to provide all their citizens with essential care. The other side saw the same reform as a moral outrage, an assault on the right of Americans to spend their money as they choose.
This deep divide in American political morality — for that’s what it amounts to — is a relatively recent development. Commentators who pine for the days of civility and bipartisanship are, whether they realize it or not, pining for the days when the Republican Party accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state, and was even willing to contemplate expanding it. As many analysts have noted, the Obama health reform — whose passage was met with vandalism and death threats against members of Congress — was modeled on Republican plans from the 1990s.
The good old days, when Reagan and Tip O’Neill could slap each other on the back and have a drink after a long day of politics and the entitlements crisis was just a dream that haunted Milton Friedman’s febrile brain. I think Krugman’s onto something here, actually, whether wittingly or not: To some extent — not all, but some — the hand-wringing about violent rhetoric is a way to delegitimize conservative policy prescriptions by delegitmizing the people who espouse them. If Glenn Beck turned into Mr. Rogers and started critiquing ObamaCare via cutesy dialogues with King Friday XIII (which, er, doesn’t seem that implausible), they’d still see him as a heartless fascist who doesn’t care about the poor. It’d just be a bit harder to “prove” it per his new tone. If accusing someone of complicity in mass murder helps save Social Security, hey — politics ain’t beanbag, right? Any weapon to hand, so to speak.